Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened While Sorting Books Today

Besides fiction, I write poetry.
In face, I wrote poetry first.
I started out writing reams and reams of that awful, self-important crap that most high school students do. Eventually, through continuous work, workshopping and performance, I got myself out of that phase and recognized that poetry could be, besides Wordsworthian ecstatic spontaneous expression, a coded language. A way of telling truths to the world without it immediately getting upset.
The problem is that the type of work I do doesn't have much of an audience, anymore. The Hip-hop-ization of poetry, combined with the simultaneous return to confessional modes, leaves not much call for a Morrisonite, Jim-Carroll-ite poet. I'm okay with that. I suspect I was never brilliant at it, anyway.
Thing is, though, even now, when fiction is my primary tool for expressing, I find myself looking longingly at this ancient green tupperware tub where I keep all my old poetry journals. Yeah, I was one of those kids--from about age 17 until about age 25, I was never more than 6 feet from one of my journals. I used to think about those journals like albums--perhaps not slick, definitely not filled cover to cover with amazing work, but instead an accurate snapshot of where my head was from the time I opened the journal until the time I closed it out. I'd write the start date on the first page (usually the date I bought it) and then a dash. That blank space in the parentheses would be like a question mark until I decided that it was time to move on to the next period of time, the next experiment in writing. I'd write the close date on it and put it in the stack with the others.
I started out thinking about the types of journal I'd use in the same way music artists think about what studio to record at--does it have the right attitude? Does it seem to already be saying something? I started out with old composition books for 79 cents, but eventually moved up the sturdy hardbound black sketchbooks. Eventually the Moleskins.
Over time, though, the style of poetry I was most comfortable with was rapid-fire, stream of consciousness symbolism. No preconceived notion of what the poem was going to be about, just open the floodgate and try to catch the words and images as they poured past.
Right around the time I switched to my Masters program, though, I switched to composing on the keyboard. It was a purely practical move--it got tiring having to copy poems out of the notebook they were in to take them to the weekly poetry workshop. Once I started, though, I found that my typing was finally fast enough to keep up with my head. I could catch more of the words and images through typing than I could with a pen. It wasn't long until I was writing less and less in notebooks and more and more on computer. Eventually, I abandoned the notebooks altogether. I still have that battered old hulk of a tupperware box with the stacks and stacks of journals, but the poetry lived on my hard drive.
The writing that was to eventually become Stealing Ganymede started to emerge, though, and I wrote poetry less and less. By the time I moved to Illinois to start my Doctorate, I had abandoned poetry altogether. I even wrote a piece where I said that poetry was something only the young do. It felt very true at the time.
Then, nearly a year after moving to Wyoming, the disaster I've described happened. The hard drive crashed. None of the creative work was recovered. There are now whole swaths of poems that can never be recovered. Little by little, I'm getting some of it back--things I emailed to people, chapbooks I created, etc. But poetry, novels, short stories...they're just gone.
An interesting thing happened while I was sorting books today, though, down in the basement of our local library (I'm in the Friends of the Library here, and we hold a book sale, so there are donations that have to be gone through). Someone donated a completely blank hardbound journal that was in brand new condition:

As an experiment, I've taken it home. Four seconds after pressing play on U2's 1991 album "Achtung, Baby," poetry exploded out of me onto the pages of this new journal. Rusty, to be sure, but very much in the old style. As if those pieces had just been waiting all this time.
So, here goes. On with the experiment.

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